THIS week the Zimbabwe Independent — which last month began publishing fresh stories based on our ground-breaking investigation into the Marange alluvial diamonds discovery and subsequent looting — continues with the story of a former NewsDay reporter, Simba Rushwaya, narrating his horrendous ordeal at the hands of the security forces who perpetrated gross human rights abuses during Operation Hakudzokwi, a vicious security dragnet meant to flush out illegal diamond panners and dealers.This special series is supported by the Investigative Journalism Fund.
By Elias Mambo/Obey Manayiti
Operation Hakudzokwi — meaning “No Return” — involved searching travellers in and out of Mutare West, with people found in possession of diamonds or foreign currency being detained and forced to fill up the gaping pits dug by fortune seekers in the diamond fields.
One of the people who accidentally got caught up in the diamonds conflict was local sports journalist, Rushwaya, who is now based in South Africa. In spine-chilling detail, he says he was almost killed — for nothing — by soldiers during the crackdown.
“Basically, I was arrested in November 2008 at my home area in Birchenough Bridge, about 372 kilometres southeast of Harare under the operation code-named ‘Hakudzokwi’, literally meaning no one should go back to Chiadzwa diamond fields,” Rushwaya recounts.
“I had visited my home area from Harare to check on my then sick mother.”
Rushwaya survived by the skin of his teeth. He says had it not been for the fortuitous intervention of a prominent former footballer — an ex-soccer star of the year who works for the police service and who knew him — he could have died.
“I was unable to resist the beatings and I was on the verge of losing my breath. Lucky enough, a former football player who knew me as a sports reporter in Harare intervened to stop the attacks. I was left writhing in agony.
“Until the second day at the holding camp, we were not given anything to eat. I was summoned to a tent where the leaders of the operation told me menacingly that if I were to write about my experience they would kill me. We were later released on the second day, but not before they forced us to go and fill up the deep and wide holes dug by illegal miners, using our fingers!”
However, police and military details deployed in Chiadzwa also had their own pillaging syndicates. They would guard the panners during mining and escort them to areas where they would select the diamonds before sharing the loot.
Foreigners invaded the country to buy diamonds, mostly in Mutare, before smuggling the precious mineral to either Mozambique or South Africa.
According to civil society activist Farai Maguwu, by October 2008 there was a thriving diamond market in Chiadzwa where buyers from more than 30 countries were entering the diamond fields on a daily basis
“Whilst police had apparently failed to bring order to Chiadzwa, Operation Hakudzokwi was launched not to correct the anomaly, but rather to ensure Zanu PF took over the diamond fields from the common man. The military takeover was also meant to pacify the increasingly restive military,” Maguwu said.
In 2008, at the height of artisanal mining in Marange, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, which also bought the diamonds, said government was losing US$1,2 billion a year to rag-tag artisanal miners and smugglers.
Although Rushwaya indeed suffered immensely at the hands of the police and soldiers, he is one of the lucky victims who lived to tell the tale.
In 2012, a Chiadzwa family successfully pushed for the trial and eventual conviction of a senior police officer, Chief Superintendent Joseph Chani, who is now serving an 18-year jail term for the murder of Tsorosai Kusena who succumbed to traumatic shock due to vicious assault.
In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent this week, Chiadzwa Community Development Trust chairperson Malvern Mudiwa narrated how Tsorosai met his fate.
“Tsorosai was in the company of his brothers when they were digging a small dam to water their cattle since the nearby river had dried up,” Mudiwa said.
“The Kusena family is a kilometre away from the Mbada concession, so the security guards accused them of being illegal diamond diggers and force-marched them to the Zimbabwe Republic Police base.
“The four brothers were beaten up and frog-marched before they were sent to look for firewood. One of the security details told the brothers to escape because there was fear that the member-in-charge — Chief Superintendent Joseph Chani — was a dangerous man. After being asked to go and look for firewood the four took that opportunity to escape but they were chased and re-arrested. Chani instructed that the four be tortured until Tsorosai told his brother Pikirai that he was not going to survive.”
Mudiwa also said Pikirai tried to convince the police to take Tsorosai to hospital without success and at about 9.30pm Tsorosai died.
Tsorosai’s elder brother, Tichafara Kusena, a local councillor, confirmed the post-mortem conducted at Mutare Provincial Hospital revealed his brother died from traumatic stress caused by assault.
“The post-mortem results revealed that my younger brother died from traumatic stress caused by the beatings he suffered at the hands of the police,” Kusena said.
Even in the middle of such horror and chaos the diamond diggers did not give up.
One local miner told Human Rights Watch how he and several others were violently forced off the fields by police in August 2008.
“We had decided to go into the diamond fields without paying the police because we had run out of cash. We were digging in darkness when the police fired a searchlight into the sky, and the whole field was as bright as day.
“Then the police, about 30 of them, began to fire at us using Mossberg shotguns. Four of my colleagues were in a tunnel when the raid began and had no time to come out. Close to 200 miners were running in all directions.
“The shallow tunnel where my colleagues were working collapsed and trapped them inside. There was nothing I could do to save them; I had to run for my own life. On that night, three people were shot by police and died in the field.
“The following morning, police ordered us to bury the three bodies in one of the pits in the field. When I asked to dig out my four colleagues, a police officer told me, ‘Consider them already buried’.”
In a book titled Facets of Power, Tinashe Nyamunda, under a chapter sub-titled Free-for-all: Artisanal Diamond Mining, writes that “the discovery of diamonds in Marange in 2006 and the subsequent artisanal diamond rush in a period of ‘free-for-all’ mining resulted in an informal economy with important economic multiplier effects”.
Nyamunda says rationalisation of mining through the commercialisation of diamond extraction and trading effectively decimated the alternative mining-fed livelihoods of tens of thousands of Zimbabweans including informal vendors, miners, retailers and formal and informal businesses in Manicaland and beyond.
“Shifting state strategies and developmental outcomes at the local level in Marange raise questions about the state as a custodian of national resources and the developmental intent and impact of its minerals management.”
Nyamunda adds: “In contrast, left to itself, the informal diamond economy in Marange provided consumption value from local resources and produced some important economic multiplier effects better than did the state and formal mining companies after rationalisation.”